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A Summary of a Report Published by the Council on Library and Information Resources

Library Workflow Redesign: Six Case Studies

Edited by Marilyn Mitchell
January 2007

This summary was written by Kathlin Smith

While technology now makes it possible to deliver more content and services, libraries are often expected to do so with little or no increase in funding-or even with a reduced budget. In 2002, a group of liberal arts college librarians approached CLIR for help in rethinking library processes. With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, CLIR organized two workshops on workflow redesign and funded six libraries that were members of consortia to conduct workflow redesign projects. The results of these projects, which began in 2003 and ended late in 2005, are described in this new CLIR report.

Projects Reflect Range of Needs

The projects of the participating libraries-The Appalachian College Association, the Libraries of The Claremont Colleges, Denison University in collaboration with Kenyon College, Smith College, the Tri-College Consortium, and the Robert W. Woodruff Library of Atlanta University Center-reflect a range of goals and tactics. For example:

  • The Appalachian College Association, the largest consortium in the project, trained at least one staff member at 30 of its 32 member institutions in workflow design. Through the development of an ingenious token-voucher system, the consortium established an exchange program that enabled staff from its member schools to call on each other’s expertise. The schools implemented an impressive array of projects-from redesigning technical services workflow to improving the efficiency of document delivery and rare-book preservation.
  • The Tri-College Consortium libraries of Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore, which had earlier developed a shared electronic resource-management system, collaborated to achieve more comprehensive e-resource management. They worked with VTLS in the development of its Verify system and with Harrassowitz’s HERMIS in the application of its e-resource customer services. In addition, the consortium produced a model license agreement for e-resources that governs the terms of use for e-resources the libraries purchase.
  • The libraries at Denison University and Kenyon College, members of the Five Colleges of Ohio consortium, identified the merger of their technical services operations as a logical extension of past cooperative ventures. Their merger entailed applying redesign techniques to their individual workflows and then combining those techniques into a single workflow.

The Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center engaged in a library-wide values clarification to improve service delivery, while the Libraries of The Claremont Colleges sought to improve service by redesigning reference and information services. Smith College Libraries, a member of the Five College Libraries of Western Massachusetts, focused on the redesign of all cataloging and materials workflow processes as well as all purchasing functions.

Lessons Learned

In her introduction, the volume’s editor, Marilyn Mitchell, synthesizes lessons learned from the six projects.

Motivation. Whether responding to crisis or opportunity, each participant had a compelling reason for redesigning workflows. The common motivation was the realization that they had an opportunity to make fundamental changes both in workflow and in library culture.

Change and risk. Change is often resisted and frequently undermined. These projects, which used broad-based team approaches to foster buy-in, developed change agents throughout their organizations. The elements of redesign-understanding a process in its entirety, identifying and then reassembling its component parts, and, most important, seeing one’s role in accomplishing new tasks-created process ownership and, by extension, created the needed change agents.

Leadership. Implementing work redesign requires leaders to build vision, provide resources to realize that vision, and build confidence. Champions in leadership positions in each of the libraries got their projects under way with the support of campus administrators as well as of library staff.

Outside assistance. All the projects used outside help to facilitate discussions and to train staff in workflow redesign. Consultants, who came from corporate consulting firms, library consulting organizations, libraries, and teaching faculties, were critical to project success.

Planning. Formal institutional planning processes provided an umbrella for several of the work-redesign efforts. A goal of strategic planning is to have such planning in place before a crisis arises. An environmental scan anticipates the crisis, and workflow redesign can then provide solutions.

Communication. Making change requires that all staff be informed and that as many people as possible participate in the redesign process. Although staff at the project institutions were aware of this, almost all participants felt in retrospect that they could have done a better job. Nearly all participants reported challenges with getting the message out, having it heard correctly, and acting on it in a positive and sustained manner.

Group decision making. All the projects reported that group decision making is essential. When several individuals contribute their unique experiences and expertise to solve a problem, solutions are superior to those of any single member.

Original thinking. There are many ways to accomplish a given goal. Adhering to data is important, but creative thinking is also essential. The effect is synergistic: one idea leads to another, and the resulting construct is bigger than its parts.

The team. Planning and implementation teams need to include all stakeholders. In many projects, users expressed wants and needs; at the same time, they communicated misunderstandings and a lack of awareness. Facilitators and consultants enhanced the dialog by articulating problems and processes, providing new perspectives, and promoting and focusing discussion.

Time and timing. Institutions have to be ready to participate, and timing is a part of the readiness equation. Not all libraries in the consortium partnerships were able to participate, and this limited the scope of their proposals. Many of the libraries found it difficult to complete their projects in the time allocated. Keeping communication open and productive took more time than they had anticipated. The more participants involved in the project-within the library, between libraries, and most particularly outside the library with vendors-the more difficult it was to meet deadlines.

More About this Report

Library Workflow Redesign: Six Case Studies
by Marilyn Mitchell, editor
January 2007. ISBN 978-1-932326-27-7. 81 pages.

Report text is available free at Print copies can be ordered at this URL for $20 per copy plus shipping.

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